Learning {Dis}Abilities

This section of the Inclusive Virginia Adult Education website provides information, instructional strategies, resources, and accommodations for adult education practitioners on serving adult learners with learning {dis}abilities.

Specific learning {dis}ability means a disorder in one or more of the basic psychological processes involved in understanding or in using language, spoken or written, that may manifest itself in the ability to listen, think, speak, read, write, spell, or to do mathematical calculations, including conditions such as perceptual {dis}abilities, brain injury, minimal brain dysfunction, dyslexia, and developmental aphasia. Specific learning {dis}ability does not include learning problems that are primarily the result of visual, hearing, or motor {dis}abilities, of intellectual {dis}ability, of emotional disturbance, or of environmental, cultural, or economic disadvantage (IDEA Sec. 300.8).

Learning {dis}abilities occur across the life span, affecting academic performance, work, and daily living. Individuals with learning {dis}abilities have a history of challenges with learning and can exhibit strengths in some areas and face challenges in others, often experiencing the impact of learning {dis}abilities in a narrow range of academic and performance outcomes. Each individual is unique and no two individuals will present in the same way. Learning {dis}abilities are NOT a result of limited schooling/educational opportunities or cultural differences. (Learning to Achieve, National Institute for Literacy, 2009).

The sections below provide some specific information for dyslexia, dysgraphia, and dyscalculia. For a brief overview of each learning {dis}ability and some instructional strategies to help learners who have dyslexia, dysgraphia, or dyscalculia, visit Dyslexia, Dysgraphia, and Dyscalculia: Understanding and Accommodating the Differences.


Additional Information

Dyslexia (reading)

Dyslexia is neurobiological in origin, persistent, and lifelong. Individuals with dyslexia experience difficulty with accurate and fluent word recognition, poor spelling, and difficulty with decoding and phonological skills. Dyslexia does not indicate a difficulty in other areas of cognitive functioning (Shaywitz & Shaywitz, 2005; see also this definition from International Dyslexia Association)

The following sites provide information on dyslexia:

Instructional Strategies for dyslexia:

  • Use simplified, explicit instructions and explain them fully.
  • Complement any visual instruction with verbal direction.
  • Highlight, or otherwise visually emphasize, important information.
  • Provide guided notes or encourage the use of an audio-recorder in class.
  • Offer examples or samples of work.
  • Effective reading instruction for learners with dyslexia: This webpage describes the components in a structured literacy program, which can be helpful when working with learners who have dyslexia.

Dysgraphia (writing & written expression)

Individuals with dysgraphia experience difficulty with writing, including the physical act of writing and organizing thoughts in written form (Understood.org).

The following sites provide information on dysgraphia:

Instructional Strategies for dysgraphia:

  • Allow extra time for written assignments or provide an alternative way to complete the assignment (e.g., use of a computer, voice recording, or verbal response).
  • Provide guided notes or encourage the use of an audio-recorder in class.
  • Provide extra planning time for class assignments.
  • Focus evaluation of work based on an understanding of concepts.
  • If focusing on grammar, mechanics, and spelling, be explicit about what you are looking for and allow extra time to go over feedback.

Dyscalculia (math)

Individuals with dyscalculia experience difficulty processing numbers, time, and space. Dyscalculia can manifest differently at different stages in life depending on the individual (advancementcourses.com).

The following sites provide information on dyscalculia:

Instructional Strategies for dyscalculia:

  • Give extra time to complete classwork and chunk work into sets with fewer problems.
  • Provide guided notes or encourage the use of an audio-recorder in class.
  • Allow the use of a calculator on assignments that aren’t assessing computation.
  • Highlight, or otherwise visually emphasize, important information in word problems.
  • Provide extra scratch paper and extra space between problems on any worksheets or handouts.
  • Allow learners to use multiplication tables, formulas, or manipulatives when possible.

Accommodations for learning {dis}abilities

  • Help individuals develop self-management skills.
  • Provide learning aids when possible.
  • Create learning environments that are calming, reducing arousal, and reduce distractions.

The Dyslexia Initiative and LDOnline provide some more specific and targeted accommodations.

Learning {Dis}Ability Resources